Of Patriots and Plagues


Earthquake? Check

Hurricane? Check

100 Year Flood? Check, check.

Drought? check

What’s next? Locusts?

LocustsWell, we don’t have locusts where I am, but we do have stink bugs. A few years ago, ciccadas were substituted for locusts and were very successful in disgusting all of us.

So far, this years’ stink bug invasion is much milder than their first appearance last year, but they’re back. Despite the general agreement that there are no good consumer approaches to the management of these pests, that didn’t impede the sale of stink bug remedies at my local Costco. One such very nicely packaged product was prominently displayed at the entrance and despite an ungodly price, moved off those shelves with amazing speed.

Thursday evening we watched our dachshund, Laszlo, start fretting and barking at nothing in particular. He’s certainly more high strung than our past Golden Retriever Murray ever was, but this was even excessive by his own standards. After having gone through the absurdity of an earthquake in the mid-Atlantic, we wondered if he was sending the early warning signal of yet another rumble in the making.

Maybe completely coincidental, but Laszlo was very restless during the very early hours on Tuesday morning, Unless that were some imperceptible tremors, its not likely that he could have given us 12 hours advance notice. More likely, Laszlo was howling in response to some deer, who in turn may have been spooked by those same humanly imperceptible tremors in response to the frenzied forest rodents, and so on and so on.

Although my people tend to think of plagues as coming in a batch of ten at a time and ending with widespread death, I don’t think that there are that many more natural disasters to come this summer.

These days, it’s more the man made disasters that I worry about and it’s possible that those have Laszlo’s attention, as well.

Like many of us, Laszlo may be expressing his concern over Ben Bernanke’s upcoming comments from Jackson Hole.

Maybe he’s expressing some indignation over the sweetheart deals Warren Buffett is able to get from distressed banks and investment houses.

Maybe Laszlo was bemoaning that fact that the likes of Steve Jobs will not be seen again in his lifetime.

All of those concerns are valid and are the side benefits of using The New York Times as a potty training tool.

As an aside, Laszlo’s take on the “Arab Spring” is that it’s much ado about nothing. More of the same to come he believes. However, I’m not aware of his expertise in the international arena, despite the fact that he is a domestic news savant.

People being people, we either look for lessons from the past where none really exist, or we ignore the true lessons of the past. At the moment there’s lots of speculation over just what Bernanke will say.

Amazingly, although he is widely considered to be the most transparent of the Federal Reserve Chairman, there is still disagreement over what he said or meant at last years’ Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium, hosted by the Kansas City Federal Reserve

Yes, the same Kansas City Federal Reserve chaired by Herman Cain in the 90’s.

Did Bernanke actually  announce Federal Reserve policy regarding quantitative easing or did he merely allude to that option?

A year later and the experts are still arguing.

Now, with 500 point dailiy swings the norm, precious metals soaring, the European Union at a crossroads and American unemployment still at unprecedented levels the experts are expanding their arguments to include the impact of Bernanke’s as of yet unspoken words.

No doubt, but the Federal Reserve Chairman can still shake our world. With interest rates still at historic lows and talk that his quiver is empty, Bernanke seems to know how to make meaningful policy out of nothing at all.

In the absence of any obviously precipitating factors it safe to assume that yesterday’s sell-off, which did follow the previously established script of recent weeks, was just a defensive posture in anticipation of some unwelcome words from Jackson Hole.

Based on demonstrated ability to interpret Bernanke’s words, I suggest that traders wait a year or so before passing judgement and taking action. And when they are finally tready, they should scratch their heads and ask just one more time what he really meant.

Neither was there earth shaking news from Europe nor depressing newly released economic metrics for today’s downdraft.

In fact, there was good news.

Despite Wednesday evening’s 5% after hours drop in Apple after Jobs’ resignation announcement, it actually outperformed today’s market, as cooler investing heads prevailed. Tim Cook, his successor, is not exactly an unknown entity. Apple, even in the absence of its heart and soul will continue to create great wealth by virtue of creating great products. Think of how much Steve Jobs has helped circulate money through our economy. Music, movies, computers, communications all premium priced, all contributing to Apple’s profits and stock gains.

Whatever our deficit is at this very second, imagine where it would be without having had the benefit of Apple related tax revenues and capital gains.

On a personal level, think of the capital gains that got redistributed into our economy through increased shopping, investment and charitable giving.

Steve Jobs? A patriot.

More good news came from Warren Buffett’s $5 billion vote of confidence in Bank of America and in the US, in general.

Our history books talk of great American patriots. Future editions should include the name Warren Buffett. For so many people, their money is their life. Buffett may be roundly criticized for getting great terms on his investments in Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, but I shudder to think of how much deeper the abyss would have been without his willingness to sacrifice his wealth for the common good.

I rarely revise these blog postings, but the following is from an observation made by  Marek Fuchs, TheStreet.com media critic, who in a nice video clip parsed Bank of America/Buffett coverage.

His spot on observation was that Buffett was being analyzed through an inappropriate lens. The Wall Street Journal headline was that Buffett had made a cool $700 million in 30 minutes on his Bank of America investment, casting a predator light on Buffett, as if he was ready to cash in on his “paper profit”.

Maybe that’s what an under-taxed “hedgie” would have done, but Buffett is in it for the long run. Can you imagine what kind of harm would have befallen the market if Buffett took his “day trade” profits?

So, repeat. The man’s a patriot.

Only history will tell us how we should consider Ben Bernanke, whether we should utter his name in the same breath as Steve Jobs and Warren Buffett.

The once prisitine reputation of his predecessor, Alan Greenspan, has been a bit soiled, as he’s received at least some of the blame for our housing crisis and financial meltdown.

I think Bernanke will withstand that test better than Greenspan, but he certainly won’t have the opportunity to match Greenspan in years of service. EIther by choice or otherwise, he will find happier pastures.

In the meantime, I reserve patriot status for anyone that gets me a stink bug solution that will leave my family alive.


This blog entry was written a bit more than a month prior to Steve Jobs’ passing. See “Why I Owe Steve Jobs a Debt” for the indirect, but very tangible benefit that I derived from Steve Jobs and his Apple legacy



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